Fiction

2017

‘After-Swarm’. In the far future, soldiers are sent to fight a proxy war on a distant planet to solve the question: who owns Earth? But with the war resolved, soldiers no longer have a use. Emilia, once valued for her machine affinity, must return to the life she left behind and face a world ordered anew.

‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Bidaten is a bulwark, one of those bred as living weapons to fight horrors from beyond the high, vast walls that keep humanity safe from monsters. Duty is all she knows until her lord brings home a beautiful foreign bride.

‘Fade to Gold’ in Pseudopod (audio reprint). Narrated by Jen Zink.

‘The Universe as Vast as Our Longings’ in The Jewish Mexican Literary Review. In a far future, a country of tyrants conquers a world and takes in its children to raise as willing collaborators. When all you have is nothing, living itself is resistance. 6,200 words.

‘The Sun Shall Lie Across Us Like Gold’ in Clockwork Cairo (ed. Matthew Bright, Twopenny Press). Post-colonial steampunk in 19th century Thailand. Sequel to ‘The Governess and We’. 3,500 words.

‘Parable of the Cocoon’ in Big Echo. When the aliens came it was not to invade, but to uplift humanity for the purposes of an inscrutable war. Human subjects are selected for alien communion, given to perceive time in parallax… or perhaps something else entirely. 5,800 words.

2016

‘We Are All Wasteland On the Inside’ in The Future Fire. Noir meet tragic Spirited Away. A woman haunted by her childhood visit in Himmapan Forest attempts to help an old spymaster solve her murder in a world slowly decaying from its contact with myth. 4,700 words.

‘The Prince Who Gave Up Her Empire’ in Apex. Queer desert epic fantasy lightly influenced by Arthuriana, deconstructing gendered language and prophetic tropes. 7,200 words.

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Links round-up: Sep 2017

What Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice gets wrong about mental illness

The first minute of Senua’s Sacrifice is an odd mixture of sincerity, preciousness and confusion. It’s Grimdark 2.0, the well-meaning grimdark with a diversity and inclusion initiative.

But it left me holding a bag full of questions. I couldn’t tell if I was being pandered to, postured at or just being used. I didn’t know who this game was for. Perhaps I should have listened to the warning and begged Sony for a refund, citing “I’m severely mentally ill, and the game says I probably shouldn’t play.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that cynicism crept through me like Senua’s black rot. Despite it all, I have never wanted to be proved wrong by a game more than I have with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

My Absolute Misogyny

Reviewers described the novel as “unflinching,” “cathartic,” “not exploitative,” and a “masterpiece.” Of course, having a mother who’s a famous Stanford professor and writer probably greased the skids for the reception of Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel. Books like these somehow manage to achieve a critical mass that critics dare not disagree with. Stephen King says it is good, ergo it must be good, and if you have a differing opinion, you clearly don’t understand the author’s work (though Roxane Gay wrote a sharp indictment.)

[…]

Using scenes of escalating brutality and grotesquerie may be a popular literary device, but it serves, in a warped and tormented way, to glorify this violence. Books like this become “must reads,” even for people who find them extremely traumatic, while the amazing women exploring themes of child sexual assault, molestation, incest, and sexual violence are pushed to the sidelines.

These two articles are pretty good at describing the same phenomenon–that of presenting fiction with a marginalized character, nominally protagonists, but who exist actually to titillate a privileged gaze: a sexual assault victim being repeatedly brutalized, a mentally ill woman warrior being traumatized over and over. Not so much stories about them as stories about their suffering, shown as tragedy porn: Grimdark 2.0 indeed.

It also reminds me of this concerning the Lara Croft reboot.

“The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,” he said. “She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.”

In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.

“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”

Dear White Women: Why We Need to Stop Crying When POC Call Us Out

Being called out used to trigger my deepest fears of abandonment and oh boy, did I cry. Crying also shielded me from the truth because it relieved the cognitive dissonance I lived with day in and day out. My growing consciousness detected the pervasiveness of abuse culture, it wanted to break free of it. But in order to escape I had to admit that I had warped and abused myself, that I had been abused by those I loved and whom I thought loved me, as well as admitting that I was perpetuating the same abuse onto others. I would have to admit that I myself had abused! Those truths were too awful and painful to accept. My struggle to deny the truth whilst coping with my own wounds created unbearable levels of stress in my brain and in my body, so I cried.

I’m a white woman. I know us, understand us and love us. I have perfected the fawning survival mechanism to the detriment of any other. At first I did it unconsciously in order to survive–especially because good little white girls didn’t fight if they want to be loved, and I couldn’t run away. It didn’t even occur to me that I was growing up within an abusive structure, it was my ‘normal’. I was one of the lucky ones and for that I was told to be grateful.

Being Labeled A ‘Bad Survivor’ Showed Me That Callout Culture Needs To Change

A few weeks later, the poster of this callout messaged me with a plot to cause physical harm to my assailant, and condemned me when I told them I was not at all OK with this. They told me that I was being unfair to them by burdening them with my refusal to allow violence to be done. It was through my refusal to condone violence against my assailant that I came to feel like a pariah in my own town. I was given cold stares when I was seen in public and made to feel unwelcome at local events.

The pushback I received — all for being a “bad survivor” — was ultimately one of the major factors that contributed to me deciding to move away. In the end, I came to be much more traumatized by the way the so-called radical queer community — with all their rhetoric about supporting survivors — treated me for how I chose to be a survivor than I ever was from my actual assault.

Public Forgiveness: The Crucial Missing Step To Making Call Out Culture Non-Toxic

We all know that one person who you and your friends no longer ask about, a persona non grata within social justice.

For the purposes of this article, let’s refer to her as G. She’s just one of the many people who have been excommunicated from social justice activism by way of social media call outs.

For G, whose name has been withheld, the call outs never end. G said in an interview: “The intent of my call out is very explicitly to compel to kill myself. I didn’t make a mistake, I don’t need training, I don’t need mediation, I am a monster.”

‘I made my protagonist bi because I wanted to add a bit of flavor’

Another day, another Powerful Ally lost to the fire of criticism from the minorities they profess to champion. As one does, I came across a straight man who was complaining that he feared that, having made the protagonist of his nonexistent fantasy novel bisexual, the fact would ‘bite him in the ass’.

Hmm, interesting. I proceeded to ask him if he was queer. What happened next will shock you!

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WINTERGLASS cover reveal!

winterglass_cover

The art is by Anna Dittman, the design by Mikio Murakami. I’m way beyond chuffed. 

(New to the book? Here’s what it’s about.)

The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.

At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.

To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.

If the splinter of glass in Nuawa’s heart doesn’t destroy her first.

One of the most important things for me was that the cover absolutely must feature an East Asian woman, which makes the process… tricky. Most art of East Asian women is a fetishistic nightmare, racist caricatures, or stereotypical (dragons, kimonos or what have you). The state of representing East Asian women is rather specific, and specifically awful. The majority of fantasy art of East Asian women is also, inevitably, in traditional getups (kimonos, hanfu, etc) which don’t at all suit Winterglass (it is, after all, not set in the fantasy equivalent of either China or Japan). That’s when it’s not women in skimpy ‘Chinese-inspired’ outfits with boob windows ala Jade Empire.

Looking for ‘inspiration’ or ‘mood board’ images I came across these promotion shots of the Chinese fantasy drama (incredibly named) Ice Fantasy.

Cool, but not quite what I’m looking for. The girl in the first is, well, too soft for lack of a better word. I wanted something icier, more aloof. Still, they looked nice and I set them aside in the ‘this is the sort of thing I’m looking for’ folder.

I’ve always liked Anna Dittman’s work: her East Asian women are beautifully painted and dignified. These two were favorites, Bauhinia and Lantana. The piece we used for the cover of Winterglass is just the right kind of icy and aloof, I felt, and perfect for the mood I want to convey. Mikio Murakami’s work on the title graphic pulls the entire cover together, I think, and it’s basically flawless.

title

The book should be up for pre-order soon and is slated for December release.

Links round-up: Aug 2017

I’m getting back into the habit of rounding up links to things I find interesting. Probably this will be done irregularly, but monthly seems like a safe bet for now. We’ll see. If you follow me on twitter, chances are good you’d find these interesting reads too.

Unlearning the myth of American innocence

I know why this came as a shock to me then, at the age of 22, and it wasn’t necessarily because he said I was sick, though that was part of it. It was because he kept calling me that thing: “white American”. In my reaction I justified his accusation. I knew I was white, and I knew I was American, but it was not what I understood to be my identity. For me, self-definition was about gender, personality, religion, education, dreams. I only thought about finding myself, becoming myself, discovering myself – and this, I hadn’t known, was the most white American thing of all.

I still did not think about my place in the larger world, or that perhaps an entire history – the history of white Americans – had something to do with who I was. My lack of consciousness allowed me to believe I was innocent, or that white American was not an identity like Muslim or Turk.

Did This Book Buy Its Way Onto The New York Times Bestseller List?

Handbook For Mortals by Lani Sarem is the debut novel from the publishing arm of website GeekNation. The site announced this news only last week, through a press release that can be read on places like The Hollywood Reporter, not a site known for extensive YA coverage. Sarem has an IMDb page with some very minor acting roles, several of which are uncredited, but details on the book are scanter to find. Googling it leads to several other books with the same title, but most of the coverage for it is press release based. There’s little real excitement or details on it coming from the YA blogging world, which is a mighty community who are not quiet about the things they’re passionate about (believe me, first hand experience here).

YA writer and publisher Phil Stamper raised the alarm bells on this novel’s sudden success through a series of tweets, noting GeekNation’s own low traffic, the inability to even buy it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and its out-of-nowhere relevance.

The Sugarcoated Language Of White Fragility

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about how terms like “white privilege,” “inclusion” and “unconscious bias” all sound just… too nice. Don’t they seem a little on the pleasant side for words used to address a system of racist oppression? It reminds me of how, in Minnesota in January, the meteorologists will say it’s going to be a “cool evening” as they stand in front of a map showing temperatures that will literally freeze your nostrils together when you take a breath.

Something’s definitely up.

I’m reminded of how, in the novel 1984, the creepy futuristic government acts as if it’s “Opposite Day” all the time, using the Ministries of Love, Peace, Plenty and Truth to handle fear, war, rationing, and propaganda. The deliberate distortion of words is called doublespeak and we actually see it frequently in real-life politics (for example, the Clear Skies Act makes it easier to pollute the air and “enhanced interrogation“ means old-fashioned torture). Words are powerful.

I Hate Your “Curvy Wife” Guy Jokes

I’ve been watching people dunk on Curvy Wife guy for twenty-four straight hours and it’s been bothering me the whole time. Not because I feel like he needs to be defended, because I don’t. He’s just another guy who likes a woman who has just enough fat in just the right places. I don’t really feel the need to defend his wife as an individual, because the meanness hasn’t precisely been targeted at her, either. All in all, I sat for a while watching people tweet, and retweet, and joke about it, and felt a little hole in the pit of my stomach that never feels good, that feels like an old well full of stagnant, poison water.

Righteous Callings: Being Good, Leftist Orthodoxy, and the Social Justice Crisis of Faith

· Bullying and Call-Outs: A lot of public debate has already been had about the benefits and drawbacks of call-out culture in activism, so I won’t go too deeply into it. Suffice it to say, a culture in which the majority of political education is done through public shaming neither all that socially transformative nor psychologically healthy. Call-out culture, in my experience, can also spin into dynamics of punishment through bullying and intimidation, ie doxing, online harassment, etc.

· Celebrityism and Mob Mentality: In the absence of formal leaders, social justice culture has built a system of micro-celebrities (and in a few cases, not-so-micro-celebrities) from which to take inspiration and direction: Artists, academics, prolific users of social media, public speakers and charismatic organizers, for the most part — including a certain essay-writing, spoken word-performing, East Asian transsexual. Such individuals occupy a place of high respect among their followers, as well as disproportionate access to the development of political opinion in the movement — their Tweets and status posts, writings and videos, are liked, reblogged, and shared extensively as a part of the performance of wokeness in activist theatre. Their names and quotes are invoked as a part of the gospel of social justice holy texts. They are lionized as living at the cutting edge of activist thought (though it should be noted that some such mini-celebs are only tangentially or not at all connected to actual grassroots activism work), and they are pedestalized as living examples of activist purity — of the righteous calling of our movement. In the United States, there is an entire small industry of social justice celebrities who make their living on the speaking/performing tour circuit, funded mostly by student groups with access to college and university funding departments.

‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies

When she comes we scatter coins before her, every disc polished, some so new they are still warm from the making. She walks bare-footed but does not seem hurt or troubled by this gleaming path. I catch her smiling from the corner of her mouth as she treads on these symbols of wealth, the luster and hard glint of Tarangkaya’s prosperity.

She is robed tightly, cerise brocade and propolis sash. Her scalp, shaven in the fashion of her country, is painted in red ink with the calligraphy—again her country’s—signaling luck, fertility, a hundred children.

I am similarly patterned, from the back of my head to my brow, my bare shoulders and my arms, as my skin makes for good canvas. In retrospect perhaps I should not have been there, a foreign and startling sight to the foreign and startling bride. But the household’s bulwark must preside, like a pillar or statue. I even gleam like one, mostly celadon and the odd tracery in umber and old ivory, the shades of my skin back when I was still mostly skin.

 ‘No Pearls as Blue as These’ is a story that I cheerfully, and very intentionally, advertise as ‘What if Attack on Titan, but lesbians‘ (and without the weird glorification of fascists). Also, of course with characters of color rather than a mostly-white cast.

I’m very resentful about what happens to Ymir, by the way. You know what I mean. We always know what it means when a lesbian couple is bound for tragedy, and we’re given a little bit of hope, a bone thrown here and there. But then the inevitable happens and tragedy strikes anyway. Sometimes it’s done tastefully, more or less, but most often (when written by men in particular) it’s just nasty. Predictable, but nasty.

Before season two, I’d heard before that Attack on Titan has a lot of uncomfortable overtones, in particular with regards to its militaristic glorification and something that flirts uncomfortably with fascism, and not exactly as a critique of it. The first season of the show didn’t seem to lean on that too much, so I didn’t think too long on it; season two is somewhat more overt, and it became oddly… uncomfortable to watch. After learning what happens to the one and only lesbian couple in Attack on Titan, it’s just about soured the series completely for me. Which is a shame, and it’s also a shame that we’re so desperate for any sort of lesbian representation that we eagerly chase scraps. That comes to why I will always center queer women in my work, and why for me writing what I want to read is an especially charged thing.

Charles at Quick Sip Reviews reviewed the story here.

The emotional beats are strong and I love the food elements, the way that poison is used, the way that sex and sensuality are used. It’s a great story and you should definitely check it out!

Bridget at SF Bluestocking also has a kind word!

The major draw for me in #232 was a new story by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. “No Pearls as Blue as These” is a gorgeously clever queer romance with a great setting, a fascinating protagonist and a nicely hopeful message that makes it pretty much exactly the sort of thing I want to read these days.

Also, a couple readers livetweeted reading this story from reading the BCS issue before the story went up for free. Hella cool, and I always appreciate this.

Marginalized editors and sensitivity readers list

I don’t usually need editorial services myself, but there are frequently calls for sensitivity reading and editorial services, and while databases/lists of such already exist I wanted to compile another one so I can point people to when I see tweets cross my timeline that ask for sensitivity readers and freelance marginalized editors. I believe that, whenever possible, your money should go to marginalized people. Rates are usually in USD.

To be added to this list, ask me on twitter! I’m @benjanun_s. Please tell me what areas of marginalization you’re willing to read for and state, if possible, your rates.

My suggestion is that you state your rates per word–how much you want to be paid per word (or per 100/500/1000 words)–or per hour, that’s up to you. For prospective clients, that’s the easiest way to count since different novels have different lengths, as do short stories. I’ll link your twitter, your website if any, and include your rates. If you want any of this modified or updated, just let me know (again, on twitter).

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